He has been beaten up, received death threats and hundreds of insulting emails, but Karamba Diaby is not one to give up. After winning a seat four years ago as the first African-born black MP in Germany, Diaby, 55, is now seeking re-election. Germany’s first black African MP is battling against a racist campaign to unseat him in a general election that he has described as the “most aggressive since 1945”.
“To all racists: I’m not your negro!” he wrote on Facebook in exasperation after receiving a torrent of vitriol online ahead of the September 24 general elections. “I won’t be intimidated,” the Social Democrat lawmaker said in an interview with AFP, despite noting that on social media, “the commentary has become very, very aggressive.”
Germany has experienced a surge of racist and incendiary speech online, particularly since the arrival of around one million asylum seekers since 2015. After the far-right NPD party called him a “black monkey” and used “the N-word” which he refused to pronounce, Diaby filed a lawsuit. “There is no freedom of expression when one insults someone else,” he said, adding that it was “the duty of all society” to combat such hate. “The dignity of an individual is written in our constitution,” said Diaby, who speaks fluent German, French and Mandinka.
That he is not easily deterred is demonstrated in his unusual life story. Born in Senegal, he won a scholarship to study in then communist East Germany thanks to his membership in a left-leaning student organisation. “I only knew two German words, Bundesliga and BMW, when I arrived,” said Diaby, recalling the day in 1985 when he first set foot in East Germany. Life for a migrant was not easy in the closed-off former east, where there was little effort to integrate Africans, many of whom were students from socialist countries. When the Berlin Wall fell in 1989, racism in the region exploded as unemployment shot up. One night in 1991, as Diaby got off a bus, he was set upon by neo-Nazis. But he went on to get his doctorate in chemistry, marry a German, and in 2001, obtained German nationality. In 2013, he stood for a seat in the Bundestag. Not only did he beat the odds to become the first African-born MP in Germany, he won his seat in Halle, an eastern city known for its nationalist and hard-right leanings.
Last year, the upstart anti-immigration party Alternative for Germany (AfD) clinched 24 percent in state elections there. Diaby recounted his odyssey in a book published last year, “Into the Bundestag with Karamba: My road from Senegal to the German parliament.” So rare was it to see an MP of colour that on one of his first days in parliament, a cashier at the Bundestag canteen initially refused to serve him until it was made clear that he was an elected lawmaker, he recalled.